What can current biomarker data tell us about the risks of lung cancer posed by heated tobacco products?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are marketed as less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, but the lung cancer risk of HTPs is unknown. In the absence of epidemiological data, assessing the risks of HTPs relies on biomarker data from clinical trials. This study examined existing biomarker data to determine what it tells us about the lung cancer risk posed by HTPs. Aims and Methods: We identified all biomarkers of exposure and potential harm measured in HTP trials and evaluated their appropriateness based on ideal characteristics for measuring lung cancer risk and tobacco use. The effects of HTPs on the most appropriate biomarkers within cigarette smokers switched to HTPs and compared to continued cigarette smoking or cessation were synthesized. Results: Sixteen out of eighty-two biomarkers (7 exposure and 9 potential harm) measured in HTP trials have been associated with tobacco use and lung cancer, dose-dependently correlated with smoking, modifiable upon cessation, measured within an appropriate timeframe, and had results published. Three of the exposure biomarkers significantly improved in smokers who switched to HTPs and were not significantly different from cessation. The remaining 13 biomarkers did not improve—in some instances worsening upon switching to HTPs—or were inconsistently affected across studies. There were no appropriate data to estimate the lung cancer risk of HTPs in non-smokers. Conclusions: The appropriateness of existing biomarker data in assessing lung cancer risk of HTPs, both relative to cigarettes and their absolute risk, is limited. Furthermore, findings on the most appropriate biomarkers were conflicting across studies and largely showed no improvement following a switch to HTPs. Implications: Biomarker data are fundamental to assessing the reduced risk potential of HTPs. Our evaluation suggests much of the existing biomarker data on HTPs is inappropriate for determining the risk of lung cancer posed by HTPs. In particular, there is a paucity of data on the absolute lung cancer risk of HTPs, which could be obtained from comparisons to smokers who quit and never smokers exposed to or using HTPs. There is an urgent need for further exploration of the lung cancer risks posed by HTPs, via clinical trials and, in the long-term, confirmation of these risks via epidemiological studies. However, careful consideration should be given to biomarker selection and study design to ensure both are appropriate and will provide valuable data.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberntad081
Pages (from-to)270-280
Number of pages11
JournalNicotine & Tobacco Research
Issue number3
Early online date21 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024

Data Availability Statement

The data underlying this article are available in the article and in its online Supplementary Material.


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